Tai Chi beginners frequently express the desire to "look pretty" when they move in Tai Chi Chuan. Such a desire can create a large roadblock in your early progress: the more you try to look pretty, the less you will succeed. Instead, practice correct movement, expressing the external from within, and the beauty will emerge naturally. The key is to move from the waist.
Moving from the waist is not too difficult, but it is radically different from what most people are used to. In Japanese martial arts, movement is from the hip. You see it in karate all the time. Budo arts are derived from battlefield methods, where armor was worn. The armor moves at the
hips, not the waist, hence, the requirement for hip movement.
In China, internal martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) are personal fighting arts where neither a battlefield setting nor armor are assumed. The attacking techniques require moving through a line of attack
based on the direction of the navel - cutting through the opponent's center. The movements are further refined by the idea of the lower dan tien (tantien), which sits just below the waist in the abdomen.
In the early months of Tai Chi Chuan practice, a student should set aside time to exercise the waist on a regular basis. Side-to-side arm swings are a start, but more is required. You must also pay special attention to separating the waist movement from the hips.
In other words, be careful to turn only the waist, and not the hips. In general, the hips, navel, and shoulders must point squarely to the front toe direction, which is the line of attack. The more closely your navel cuts through your opponent's center, the more powerful your discharge will be.
Such exercises are only a beginning. As you practice form, you must carefully delineate the order of your movements for maximum effect. The expression "move your body as one" is often misinterpreted to mean "do everything all at once". Nothing could be further from the truth. You must express your movement as a unified whole, but that whole consists of many
different currents of movement that merge together in a harmonious flow.
In form practice, be sure to lead your movements from your waist. For instance, it is common to enter a movement by turning one foot out forty-five degrees, preparing for it to become the back leg in your next stance. Do not initiate the movement with the foot. Instead, turn the waist and let the foot movement follow it. There is no exception to this rule: lead all foot movements from the waist. For that matter, lead all hand/arm movements from the waist as well.
As you fully absorb this lesson, you will come to realize that sometimes your waist movement is not side-to-side. Moving your waist to the left or to the right is important, but it is only a single dimension. To go deeper, you must explore the other dimensions as well. This will be the subject of upcoming blogs.